If Sonoma County planners have their way, cyclists will be able to pedal through the heart of Sonoma Valley, stopping at parks or wineries along the way, without having to brave Highway 12.

Caltrans thinks enough of the idea that it has awarded Sonoma County Regional Parks a $190,575 grant to study the feasibility of a 13-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail that would connect Sonoma and Santa Rosa from Agua Caliente Road to Melita Road.

Advocates said such a trail would provide a safer alternative to Highway 12 and be an economic boost to the valley.

"When someone is coming up from behind you at 60 mph, you're crossing your fingers they're not on the phone or that the sun is on their windshield. It doesn't take much for them to drift into the shoulder," said Gary Helfrich, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

First District Supervisor Susan Gorin called the project a "dream of mine," one she said would open up the "beauty of the Sonoma Valley for all to enjoy."

The trail is one component of an ambitious Sonoma County plan to create an additional 800 miles of off-street paths, bike lanes and bike and pedestrian-friendly road crossings and parking.

About 40 miles currently exist, including the Joe Rodota Trail, which opened in the late 1980s and links Santa Rosa with Sebastopol.

Helfrich said a lot of effort was put into getting the grant for the Sonoma Valley study. He said Caltrans awards only 11 such grants annually statewide.

Caryl Hart, the county's parks director, said planners finally succeeded in getting the grant after three tries.

"The fact Caltrans is paying in full for us to do this study is an indication they consider this to be a very important connection," she said. "We'll be returning to them and other agencies for funding."

With regard to the envisioned county network, the Sonoma Valley trail is considered one of the more straightforward projects because of existing public right-of-ways. Helfrich said the landscape is relatively flat and includes soils conducive to laying down a path.

Hart did not have an estimate on how much the path might cost. She also could not predict which side of Highway 12 the trail would be located.

"That's what we're going to be studying. It might go across (Highway 12), and it probably will," she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.